Friday, March 23, 2018

Celebrating Spring

I bought these flowers a couple of days ago to celebrate the start of Spring (here in the Northern Hemisphere that is). I also bought a large sugar cookie for John that had a cute picture in bright yellow icing of a baby chick. He ate it before I could get a photo. He said that if I want to photograph cookies that I plan to give him, I need to take the photo before I actually give him the cookie! Well you can use your imagination.

This morning I practiced my flower photography on them. So, Happy Spring!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Happiness Report

The United Nations’ 2018 World Happiness Report came out last week.

I read a little of it.

Got unhappy.

Maybe it was because I skipped ahead to Chapter six which is titled, Happiness in Latin America Has Social Foundations by Mariana Rojas. It tells how despite all the problems in Latin America there is a surprising level of happiness in those countries south of us. The study said, “it is explained by the abundance of family warmth and other supportive social relationships.…Happiness research has shown that relationships are important for people’s happiness; and that positive relationships are abundant in Latin America.” It seems that having a lot of strong relationships helps buffer them from the stress of the problems around them. Perhaps having a more relaxed view about life helps too!

I mentally compared our American society with Latin American society. We're less family oriented and more task and money oriented. Driven is another way to put it.

I suspect that American society actually encourages dissatisfaction. (We ranked 18th in the study.) We seem to idolize "progress" and feel we have to constantly “improve” everything and “get ahead” no matter what. Contentment is almost seen as un-American. The Apostle Paul said godliness with contentment is great gain. I don’t think many American Christians really believe that. We brush that verse aside fairly quickly.

Although we did rank higher than most of the Latin American countries in the happiness scale, I think we could learn some things from our Latin neighbors. (from Aussies too—they ranked 10th!)

Of course you may be thinking they, the Latin Americans that is, need to learn a few things from us too. Yes, undoubtedly.

Chapter six also says they are not as task oriented and that they are more concerned with living within existing conditions rather than changing things. Of course they don’t all feel that way which may explain why some of them come here where, as one Mexican said to me once “everything works.” (meaning things like the lights, water, roads. You know, all that infrastructure stuff we take for granted!)

But I think that God is more relationship oriented than task oriented. And we would do well to learn to be also.

Anyway I got depressed. Felt lonely. We don’t have much family in our area. And I haven’t managed to produce any children to bless our parents in their old age, or our old age either.

Church should be like family. But it’s not really the same. It falls short. I fall short. I don't reach out enough. Mostly, I guess, from fear of rejection. (which I am aiming to overcome!). And everyone’s so busy. We’re busy too.

I can’t change where our relatives live. Nor can I single-handedly change society.

By Sunday morning I was starting to see reality more clearly. I realized one thing I can change is how warmly I express my relational feelings toward others. So I made it a point to initiate a few more hugs during greeting time at church than I usually do. It was surprising how warmly they were received and how much better I felt too.

I also remembered the verse that says it is not wise to compare ourselves with others. Of course I also have heard plenty of stories of how bad things are in Latin America so that also tempered what I had read in the WHR.

It helped too to remember studies show that focusing a lot of attention on being happy can lead to the opposite feeling.

I didn’t detect any mention of how religious faith fits into a person’s level of happiness in the WHR. Being that it is produced by the UN I suspect that they are trying to substitute secular ideas of well-being because they may not believe in anything else. 

To paraphrase Jesus, what good is it for a person to be very happy but lose his own soul?

The study does have a variety of other interesting information such as how generosity and being welcoming of immigrants makes everyone in the society happier.

Also, Chapter seven looks at how the serious conditions of: obesity, substance abuse, and depression are affecting American society. The author of that chapter, Jeffrey Sachs, believes those help explain the fact that although income per capita has more than doubled in America since 1972, happiness has remained the same or even declined.

Think about it!

I think the rise of social media and increasing fragmentation of society could also explain some of that in recent years. And 1972 is also infamous for being when abortion was legalized. How could we really be happy with so much innocent blood on our hands?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

More photos from Loyd Park

Here are more pictures from our week at Loyd Park (see yesterday's post for more info):

We were in site 62 which is next to the lake. It was a lovely view.

More of the lake while standing in the same spot.

John and I are mere shadows of our selves in this one.

We were close enough to home that I was able to follow behind in our car. We still hope to get a tow car but for now it was nice to have this one with us.
Previous weeks of rain had the lake levels up. It was too cold to swim anyway!
We were the only people out picnicking that day. It was lovely!
Spring has sprung! It was amazing the difference a few days made. When we arrived nothing was blooming. But all the white trees started blooming out while we were there. I've not noticed how many white blooming trees there are in our area until this year.
More ducks in their peaceful slow disguise :-)

I especially liked how the green coloring on the mallard's head showed up in the sun when he turned his head just right.

This photo I planned ahead for. I knew the birds were there. So when I saw the boat coming I focused on the birds and waited for the boat to come into view. Notice the freeway bridge in the background. It often felt like we were a long way from anywhere but we really were quite close to "civilization."

It really is Springtime but this picture looks more like Fall still

Yes it is the same little flowers as yesterday's post. I like the background especially in this shot. It seems more artsy and interesting. Almost Van Gohg-ish

Monday, March 12, 2018

Ah the sounds of ... nature?

Last week we spent several days in our motor home on Joe Pool lake at Loyd Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, near where we live. We arrived on Monday the fifth and left on Friday the 9th.

I’m glad it didn’t rain. But the wind and cold did keep me in more than I expected. At least we had something to be in! Our neighbors to the left just had a tent and a tarp strung up to shield their table and grill from the wind.

Being there during the middle of the week had the usual and welcome benefit of there not being  many people. Unfortunately there wasn’t the usual peace and quiet to go with it. The neighbors on the left had a large noisy truck. For some reason, known only to them, it was apparently necessary to keep its motor running nearly continuously. When it wasn’t sitting there idling noisily the guy was racing past in it going the wrong way on the one way road.

On the other side of our camp site there were back hoe tractors running almost constantly for the first few days. They were endeavoring to remove a couple of large wooden beams that had fallen into the lake and washed ashore there. Each one weighed two tons according to one of the men who talked to John. I was happy to see when they were finally successful in dragging them away—not primarily for their sake I must admit.

The neighbor on the left with the noisy truck also finally left and we had a day of real peace and quiet until we also needed to pack up and come home.

But despite all the wind and noise we did have a nice time. It is a pretty and well maintained park. Definitely worth revisiting.
Here is a picture of one of the beams before it was fished out of the water. I didn’t take any photos of the tractors or the noisy truck on the left. But trust me they were there ;-)

There are a lot of nice places to walk.

These are some of my favorite wild flowers. They are very small and compared to other wildflowers may seem insignificant, but I really like them. When the sun shines on them they seem to glow and say, “Spring is here!” 

Ducks are another of my favorite things. They are so cute and funny when they walk. And seem so peaceful and slow when they swim. But have you ever noticed how they change when they fly? I never did until last week.
It’s as if a cute, sort of goofy, little smart car has suddenly morphed into a supersonic jet. With a couple of flaps of their wings they went from calmly paddling on the water to shooting over the water and disappearing into the sky before I could focus for another shot. (some trees were in the way too which didn't help!)

Friday, March 2, 2018

Saved to the nth degree!!!

This week in small group we studied Galatians chapter 2.

I was struck by the repetitions in verse 16:
We ... know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16 NIV)
Our study book said to "Circle each use of the word justified. Underline the phrase works of the law. Draw a rectangle around the phrase faith in Jesus Christ or faith in Christ."

I noticed right off that each one of those words or phrases is repeated 3 times. Paul the writer here is using repetition to emphasize over and over and over again that: it is not our works that save us, we are made right with God by our faith in Christ Jesus and what he did for us on the cross!

I've heard it said that when scripture describes God as "Holy, Holy, Holy" that the three times repetition is saying that God is holy to the nth degree.

I believe that Paul has the same reason for repeating himself three times here. He really wants people to see that faith in Jesus is essential and it makes all the difference. We are saved to the nth degree!

Hebrews 7:25 says we are "saved to the uttermost."

Thank you God!!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

L. M. Montgomery and perseverance

I recently read Lucy Maud Montgomery’s autobiography, “The Alpine Path: the Story of My Career.” It is the delightful, if too brief, story of her growing up years and how she became the world famous author of “Anne of Green Gables” as well as many other short stories, novels and poems.

Montgomery’s honesty, humility and self-deprecating humor became apparent from the introduction. In it she wrote of her bemused wonder when she was asked by an editor to write the story of her career. “My career? Had I a career? Was not—should not—a ‘career’ be something splendid, wonderful, spectacular at the very least, something varied and exciting. Could my long uphill struggle, through many quiet, uneventful years, be termed a ‘career’?”

But she wrote it anyway, partly because, she said, she had got into the habit of trying to please editors. She also hoped to encourage, "some other toiler who is struggling along in the weary pathway" she once trod.

One of the things I found encouraging is how she found ways to keep up with her writing even when it was challenging. While teaching school one year she found she was too tired to write in the evenings after teaching all day so instead she started getting up every morning at 6:00 a.m. to write. Since the heating fires were not lit that early, the big old farmhouse where she was staying was so cold she had to wear her coat and sit on her feet to keep them from freezing. Her fingers got so stiff from the cold she could hardly hold her pen. But she was determined.

In 1901 she worked for several months as a "newspaper woman." She started out as “proof-reader and general handy-man.” Each afternoon after the paper went to press she also answered the phone and did other clerical jobs and more proof-reading. Quite a lot of other writing and editing assignments were added to that as well. It’s hard to imagine she had a spare moment to think.

But, somehow, she managed to fit in a little writing of her own. She didn’t have the time or energy to write at home in the evenings or before work in the mornings. That just left during the day at work. Before that she thought she could only write when there was silence and uninterrupted peace. But since there was no other alternative and she was determined to write she made herself try. She was surprised to discover that despite the noise, tumult and frequent interruptions of the busy newspaper office she was able to write after all. So between her work assignments she took any and every spare moment to write. She was even able to produce things that were good enough to be accepted for publication by a few magazines.

I’ve also been making writing more of a priority in my schedule. I try to make it one of the first things I do in the morning when I usually have the most energy. If I wait until all my other chores are done then I’m too tired. It’s interesting how this approach not only gives me more energy but also helps me manage the rest of my day better. So I am getting more done and feeling better physically too. Not every day works that well. But enough do that it encourages me to keep going with it.

LMM’s experience with the newspaper office also encourages me that even in situations that don’t fit my ideal I still will be able to write if I really try. Particularly I’m thinking about when we are traveling. We are currently in the early stages of planning a long RV trip around the USA later this year. One worry I have about the trip is that I’ll lose my momentum and stop writing. I do hope to blog about the trip but I know from past experience that writing while traveling is hard. When I give myself the option to not write if it seems too hard then I usually stop writing. Maybe I need to remember Montgomery's example and at least try even when I don't think I can.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

But of course

As I should have expected, this week I have been wrestling with believing and accepting God’s grace and forgiveness about some past sins. It even took me a little while to see the irony. Here I had just given a talk at our ladies breakfast about that very thing: accepting God’s grace by faith. And here I was not heeding my own exhortations. I certainly believed them, that was why I gave the talk in the first place. But then I somehow lost sight of the truth again.

Yes, I too need to really believe and remember again that my performance and (non-existent) perfection are not what I am trusting in. I can never be good enough or perform well enough to pay for my own sins and be accepted by God. It is only my faith in God’s grace and the forgiveness that Jesus bought for me on the cross that saves me.

But what about “x” sin? Does he really forgive that? Besides I’m not supposed to be that messed up. I shouldn’t need grace in that area!

Huh??!! Wow that’s pretty crazy!! I didn’t know I was that delusional.

I don’t think it is just a case of seriously delusional self-righteousness, though. It is also something of a realization of how sinful sin is. But of course it is. It really is that bad. That’s why Jesus died! To save sinners just like me. If our sins were no big deal to God then Jesus would not have gone through all that! But he did for me and all of us and I can believe it and apply it to my sins too! All of them! No matter how embarrassing or stupid. All of them. He has removed them as far as the east is from the west. Thank you God!
“He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
Psalm 103:10-12